Rodica Simion   (1955-2000)

It has been hard enough, listening to a Special Session in memory of Gian-Carlo. To add to that, Dr. Rodica Simion, of George Washington University, one of the organizers of this Special Session, died on Friday, January 7th, about two weeks ago.

She was a PhD student of mine at the University of Pennsylvania, and received her degree in 1981. Her thesis concerned the use of Sturm sequences to deduce concavity and unimodality properties of certain combinatorial sequences relating to partitions of a multiset. I remember our meetings well – she preferred to stand at the blackboard, rather than being seated, as we discussed her progress during the previous days and what she might try during the following days. Her demeanor was always upbeat and cheerful.

She was born in Romania, and while she was a student there she won some high prizes in International Olympiads in mathematics. She emigrated here in 1976 as a young adult. Her first striking post-PhD result, done jointly with Frank Schmidt (who also got his degree at Penn), showed bijectively that the number of permutations of n letters that avoid a particular pattern of 3 letters is independent of the pattern of 3 letters that is chosen. Since then she has published numerous papers in combinatorics in the areas of noncrossing partitions, statistics of words, Dyck paths, etc. She organized a number of conferences, notably in Formal Power Series and Algebraic Combinatorics, but also including this Special Session.

When the news of her death became known, I received many expressions of sadness and shock from the combinatorial community worldwide. Here is an excerpt from a message from Volker Strehl, which is quite representative:

“Dear Herb,

I was deeply shocked when yesterday I received the news about Rodica’s death. I have been repeatedly in contact with Rodica over the last ten years, often thanks to our engagement in the FPSAC organization, and that is why we had conversations about mathematics, organization, but
also about more private aspects of life. It was always a pleasure to experience her charming personality, and she truly deserved the three predicates (again in German): kompetent, engagiert und warmherzig (competent, dedicated, and warm-hearted). This is an immense loss.”

Rodica was not only a fine mathematician, having been an author of over thirty papers, she was a fine and caring person. She spent a great deal of time and energy caring for her parents for many years, which involved a lot of travelling between New York and Washington. To me she was always a very good friend. I feel a little bit like a parent whose child has just died -–it isn't right. There is a mapping there that should always be order-preserving. I will miss Rodica Simion very much.

--- from remarks at a special session of an AMS meeting in Washington, D.C. in January, 2000.

See Doron Zeilberger's eulogy to Rodica.